Royal coffins, like Queen Elizabeth’s, are lined with lead. Here’s why

Queen Elizabeth II’s winding final journey from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch to Windsor Castle on Monday weighed heavily on the eight soldiers carrying her coffin – in part because it was lined with lead.

The tradition goes back centuries and begins with a practical consideration: helping the bodies of deceased kings remain pristine, especially before modern preservation techniques.

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“Lead helps keep a body moist and preserves longer and prevents odors and toxins from escaping,” said Julie Anne Taddeo, a professor of historical studies at the University of Maryland. “Her coffin has been on display for days and has come a long way to her final resting place.”

Taddeo notes that the extra weight creates a need for eight climbers instead of the usual six.

Soldiers carrying the coffins of Britain’s dead kings, after an incident in 1901 when Queen Victoria’s catafalque horses were frightened and her coffin nearly spilled into the street. Winston Churchill, who received the last state funeral in Britain before Elizabeth on Monday, also had a lead-lined coffin. It was so heavy that it slipped off the shoulders of some bodybuilders when they had to stop on some stairs, one of the bodybuilders slipped, Lincoln Perkins, told the BBC. When it fell to the two “pushers” in the back to keep the coffin from falling, Perkins said, loudly to the corpse, “Don’t worry, sir, we’ll take care of you.”

Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin was moved from Westminster Hall to Wellington Gate and to her final resting place, Windsor Castle, for a state funeral on September 19. (Video: Alexa Juliana Ard / The Washington Post)

“You could really feel him slide off his shoulder,” Perkins said. “If we had dropped him… I don’t know what it would be like, it would be embarrassing, but we didn’t.”

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Elizabeth’s coffin was buried Monday night in a vault at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, part of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She rests near her parents, sister and Prince Philip, her husband, who passed away last year.

The methods of preservation are reminiscent of those used for the ancient high Egyptians, who were also placed in rooms rather than buried in the ground and whose bodies were preserved intact. And while the rich ancient Egyptians often burial Taddeo said the queen is believed to have been buried with only a wedding ring made of Welsh gold and a pair of pearl earrings.

Such austerity meant that Elizabeth, who was known to be frugal and simple, was buried with less belongings than some of her predecessors; Queen Victoria was buried with her husband’s robe and cast, a lock of her hair and a photo of her favorite servant, with whom she was rumored to have an affair, Taddeo said. Elizabeth’s orb, scepter and crown – made from nearly 3,000 diamonds and dozens of other jewels – were taken from the top of her coffin and placed on the altar at her burial.

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Mike Parker Pearson, a professor at University College London’s Institute of Archeology, said: “The use of lead in coffins is “a longstanding royal tradition”. He said the mummy of King Edward I, who died in 1307, was “found in 1774 and well preserved in his marble coffin” in Westminster Abbey. Pearson added that the practice of using lead was probably adopted around the time of Edward’s death or in the following century.

The previous kings were not mummified, he said. The body of William the Conqueror, who died in 1087, was apparently so badly decomposed that his bloated stomach exploded when priests tried to stuff his body into “a stone coffin.” thought to be too small for his large number,” Pearson said. “The mourners are said to have run to the door to escape the stench.”

William’s “intestines swelled, and an unbearable stench entered the noses of onlookers and the crowd,” according to Orderic Vitalis, a Benedictine monk Anglo-Norman chronicler.

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